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By Robert Avsec for FireRescue1 BrandFocus
By now, most firefighters have become informed and educated about the importance of wearing their particulate-blocking protective firefighting hood to help reduce the potential for the chemicals, chemical compounds and toxic substances present in smoke to enter the body through the interface between the hood and the SCBA facepiece when they engage in interior structural firefighting.
But how well have they turned that knowledge into meaningful action during both live firefights and live fire training sessions? When firefighters don’t don or doff their particulate-blocking hood properly, it can create an avenue for skin absorption of contaminants.
Fire departments need to provide their firefighters with clear, concise and easy-to-learn procedures for the proper donning and doffing of their protective hood to ensure that the hood is donned and the elastic is properly stretched around the facepiece without gaps before entering a hazard area. Those procedures should include “buddy checks” to ensure that both firefighters are properly protected.
TRAIN TO PROPERLY DON YOUR HOOD
Elite athletes engaged in any team sport spend many more hours training for an upcoming contest than they spend in competition. The same should hold true for firefighters, particularly when it comes to their structural firefighting PPE.
The particulate-blocking protective hood is the newest addition to that protective ensemble, and as such, firefighters must make a concerted effort to learn how to properly don and doff their hood and then practice to develop the required muscle memory to get it right every time.
Train the way you expect to play. Firefighters should be practicing to develop the skills necessary to safely, effectively and efficiently don their particulate-blocking protective hood:
- Emphasize the importance of donning the hood properly to protect from both heat and smoke.
- Train repeatedly with drills that focus solely on getting the hood and facepiece properly donned together without gaps every time. Firefighters should already be proficient at donning the other elements of their structural firefighting PPE (e.g., coat, pants, helmet, gloves). The particulate-blocking hood is the “new kid on the block” and deserves this special focused training approach.
- Buddy checks: Drills should include each firefighter having a partner check the hood/facepiece interface after donning. The elastic should be stretched around the facepiece, with no visible gaps. This should be part of a fire department’s training procedure as well as its operational procedure.
- Tighten the SCBA facepiece straps firmly and evenly to help reduce the potential for getting caught as the hood is pulled over the harness to create the proper seal.
Studies conducted through a collaboration between the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI), led by Gavin Horn, back this up:
“One of the very important things we can do is train firefighters on the appropriate methods for donning and doffing,” he said. “Oftentimes, particularly with new recruits, we’ll focus on putting on their gear and doing it rapidly. It’s important to get it on quickly, but we need to also reinforce the need for putting it on correctly so that there are fewer gaps between the hood and the facepiece.”
HOW TO PROPERLY DOFF YOUR HOOD
Are you defeating the protection your hood provides? You are if you’re not properly doffing your hood after leaving the hazard area (e.g., when directed to onsite firefighter rehab). You can have the best protective hood, don it properly with no gaps in the hood/facepiece interface and maintain a good interface seal while fighting the fire – and then have it all for naught because you didn’t take it off properly.
Most firefighters, in their rush to get their facepiece off after leaving the hazard area, remove their helmet and pull their protective hood back over their head so that they can loosen the SCBA facepiece harness straps. The hood then ends up down around the firefighter’s neck – exposing the same neck they’ve been trying to protect to the contamination on the outside of the hood. Even more concerning is that the heavy moisture (perspiration) and elevated skin temperature in that area can increase the speed of chemical absorption.
Did you know? A firefighter will experience a 400% increase in the rate of skin absorption of a contaminant for every 5-degree increase in skin temperature (Firefighter Cancer Support Network).
Recent findings by the IFSI-NIOSH-FSRI team show that proper doffing techniques can significantly reduce the amount of contamination on the neck.
“One of the ways that PPE can transfer contaminants on the firefighter’s neck, even if it’s provided protection to the firefighter during the firefight, is by pulling that hood back down around the neck,” said Horn. “Teaching firefighters to pull the hood up over the head when possible, as opposed to down around the neck, can reduce some of the risk for cross-contamination from the outside of the hood to the neck skin itself.”
A better approach is to remove your hood and facepiece as you would if you were on a hazmat team: Remove both together in one move that minimizes skin contact. Here are the steps required to achieve that outcome:
- Doff your SCBA backpack and place it in front of you. Leave the hood and facepiece on until after the coat has been removed.
- Pull the hood up from the shoulder area, over the facepiece netting.
- Remove the hood and facepiece together.
- Shut off the SCBA at the cylinder valve.
- Leave your PPE behind and proceed to the rehab area.
Fire departments should integrate this technique for contamination control with a standardized process for cleaning the neck skin once the hood has been doffed and practice both processes repeatedly to reduce risk and promote firefighter health and safety.
For more information on protective hoods, visit Globe.